My research profile is focused on explaining the infant's acquisition of the ambient language's linguistic structure as an emergent information-structuring process anchored on independently motivated biological and social components. My specific goal is to present a coherent and falsifiable model of how linguistic structure can be derived on the basis of the infant's experience with the ambient language's complex and often "corrupt" utterances, without calling for ad-hoc postulation of specialized language-learning mechanisms. To that end I have extended the traditional Phonetic methodology (relying on recordings and transcriptions of the infant's and the adult utterances) by including advanced experimental techniques to investigate the infant's auditory and visual perception of events in the ambient language. I have introduced experimental techniques like "High-Amplitude Sucking", the "Head-Turn technique" and, more recently, Eye-Tracking and EEG in order to obtain experimental data on how the infant perceives and processes the ambient language. Exploring my background in Natural Sciences, I have been applying and developing mathematical techniques to process our experimental data and build tentative theoretical models. The current version of the model is being tested in an embodied robotic simulation of early language acquisition at the Computer Vision Lab at IST (Instituto Superior Técnico), Lisbon, Portugal, while I am in the process of improving the model's computational efficiency in collaboration with the Department of Computer Science at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.
Implementing this kind of model of emergent linguistic structure is obviously an ambitious scientific goal that demands appreciate cross-disciplinary efforts and the ability to integrate knowledge from fields like Phonetics, Psychology and Cognitive Science, Neurology, Ethology, Philosophy and Computer Science. However I believe that the effort of formalizing and integrating into a coherent model the knowledge from different scientific areas is by itself a significant contribution to science. It will allow us, at the least, to systematically identify the problems and thereby contribute to a deeper understanding of the amazing information structuring process that infants and young children carry out during their first years of life. By addressing the language acquisition process from the perspective of its general implications for the organization of information by intelligent systems, the type of Phonetics, General Linguistics research that is carried out at Stockholm University is likely to become a relevant and necessary scientific partner also for the Natural and Behavioural Sciences. I believe I may be able to combine the traditional Phonetic issues with the innovative research that I am engaged in and that this combination will promote Stockholm University's Phonetics at a national and international level an international. I already have a well established international network, where my students and I collaborate in scientific reports and I intend to enhance the international visibility of our Phonetics Laboratory by maintaining and expanding the national and international interdisciplinary exchanges between our research team at Stockholm University and relevant Swedish partners like TMH/KTH and the Stockholm Brain Institute, KI, and also high profile international partners within EU, USA and Canada.
Link to publications in DiVA